US Presidential Elections 2024: The Race Hots Up

By Kenneth Tiven in Washington

Donald Trump’s bid to win the Republican nomination for US president in 2024 has been challenged by Indian-American politician Nikki Haley, the daughter of a Sikh family that emigrated to South Carolina before she was born. She is seeking the Republican nomination by being politically close to Trump without the boorish bombastic personality he demonstrates.

The former South Carolina governor served in the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations. She is the second announced candidate for president in 2024. The likely third candidate is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who makes no secret of his desire to be elected president, but hasn’t declared officially, preferring to focus on right-wing issues in Florida.

If Trump survives his current and growing list of legal problems, he will have a built-in advantage. The top vote-getter in all GOP primaries gets all that state’s convention delegates. In a three-way race, this works to the ex-president’s benefit. Democrats use a proportional system.

Trump is on a Georgia prosecutor’s radar. The Atlanta prosecutor used a special investigating grand jury to probe possible criminal interference in the 2020 election in Georgia. President Trump had made a phone call demanding the state election boss find 11,000 votes to make Trump the winner there. This grand jury heard testimony from or involving 75 witnesses, almost all in person and under oath. It also heard investigators’ testimonies and examined digital and physical media, including the call recording itself. A partial transcript of the jury findings was released recently. Under Georgia law, an investigating grand jury cannot bring indictments.

The grand jury found “by a unanimous vote that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election.” It also reported that “[a] majority of the Grand Jury believes that perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it,” and it asked the district attorney to “seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling.” 

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is moving to compel Trump’s lawyers in the case of a document to testify regardless of attorney-client privilege based on the “crime-fraud exception” to that privilege. This suggests that the end is close in one aspect of the documents subpoena matter, with possible criminal charges, including an obstruction of justice claim. By invoking the “crime-fraud exception”, federal lawyers probably have clear and convincing evidence that a Trump lawyer was involved in conduct that furthered an ongoing crime when he responded to the DOJ and the National Archives’ attempts to retrieve classified documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and club in Palm Beach.

Nikki Haley’s announcement to take on Trump as a Republican candidate was not that much of a surprise. She has made no secret of her political ambitions. Nimrata Nikki Randhawa was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, to immigrant Sikh parents from Amritsar district of Punjab. Her father had been a professor at Punjab Agricultural University. Her mother has a law degree from the University of Delhi and an American master’s degree in education. She taught for seven years in Bamberg public schools. Haley has a sister and two brothers. She graduated from Clemson University with a degree in accounting.

In both Sikh and Methodist ceremonies in September 1996, Nikki Randhawa married Michael Haley. The couple have a daughter and a son. Haley converted to Christianity in 1997. She and her husband regularly attend the United Methodist Church. She also attends Sikh services once or twice a year. She visited the Harmandir Sahib with her husband in 2014 on a visit to India. 

Asked by a Christian magazine interviewer if she hopes her parents convert to Christianity, Haley responded: “What I hope is that my parents do what’s right for them.” Her husband is an officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard. While she governed, he spent 2013 in Afghanistan.

Asked recently by Fox News host Sean Hannity where she differed politically from Trump, she spent two minutes explaining she is a generational change candidate and had nothing to say about Trump. Reportedly, she has not spoken with Trump on or since the insurrection attack of January 6, 2021. Asked if Trump is a friend, she stated that “Friend is a loose term”. 

A year ago, she told The Wall Street Journal, “Most of Mr. Trump’s major policies were outstanding and made America stronger, safer and more prosperous. Many of his actions since the election were wrong and will be judged harshly by history...I will gladly defend the bulk of the Trump record and his determination to shake up the corrupt status quo in Washington.”

She is clearly conscious of the reality that she needs those MAGA voters to win a primary or national election. She wants to sound like a commercial for a soft drink called Trump, but with less calories, to be sort of the unTRUMP. As a daughter of immigrants, she believes that immigration laws should be enforced. 

As UN ambassador, Haley discovered the complexities of international diplomacy were very different from being a state governor. In December 2017, Haley accused Iran of backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis were fighting the Saudi-backed Hadi government. She said that the “fight against Iranian aggression is the world’s fight.” Iranian UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryusefi said in response: “These accusations seek also to cover up for the Saudi war crimes in Yemen, with the US complicity, and divert attention from the stalemate war of aggression against the Yemenis.” In January 2018, she supported President Trump’s withholding aid to Palestinians through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Her biggest faux pas came in April 2018 when she failed to disclose to both President Trump and the American people that several US military members deployed in support of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were wounded in a large complex attack in Timbuktu. She resigned as the UN ambassador in October 2018.

In 2012, Haley credited Hillary Clinton with inspiring her to run for office, stating in an interview that, “the reason I actually ran for office is because of Hillary Clinton... She said that when it comes to women running for office, there will be everybody that tells you why you shouldn’t, but that’s all the reasons why we need you to do it, and I walked out of there thinking, ‘That’s it. I’m running for office.’” 

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels